LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the modern LGBT+ rights movement, U.S. novelist Armistead Maupin said it was time for storytellers to take the “cultural revolution” to countries where “queers get thrown off roofs”.
His trailblazing “Tales of the City” series, which began as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, introduced one of the first transgender characters - pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal - to a mainstream audience.
“For me, it’s always been a cultural revolution. ‘Tales of the City’ made a difference in San Francisco when it was in the newspaper because a lot of people were reading about gay life for the first time,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A new television adaptation of the nine-novel series premieres on Friday on Netflix, with the return of former ingenue Mary Ann Singleton to San Francisco, a U.S. city long popular with the LGBT+ community.
Although much has changed since 1969 when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York sparked the birth of the modern LGBT+ rights movement, 75-year-old Maupin said gay artists and writers still needed to tell their stories to combat homophobia.
“The movement has always been a matter of personal testimonies – stepping forward, coming out of the closet, addressing the people in your life. That’s how we fix things,” he said.
“We have to direct our attention to nations where queers get thrown off roofs and stoned to death. It’s hard to think about that, but we have to think about it.”
Brunei has sparked global criticism for saying it will implement Sharia law, allowing homosexuality to be punishable by stoning to death - the seventh country to impose the death penalty for same-sex relationships.
Maupin, a long-time inhabitant of San Francisco, said the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence proved the catalyst for him to relocate to London.
“The move to London was every bit about hating them ... I wanted to live in a country where I could be at least a little bit positive about life and the future,” he said in advance of a preview screening of the Netflix series.
“I was especially repelled by ... the needless worship of guns and the free-range bigotry that Trump has made possible.”
Maupin said he was inspired by Christoper Isherwood, author of the 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin” - which was adapted into the Oscar-winning film “Cabaret” - and a close friend until his death in 1986.
“He was a big figure in my life, a sort of grandfather figure ... he was the first person who used the word queer to me, and he insisted that I do it,” said Maupin.
“He said that it embarrassed our enemies when you describe yourself as queer. And when you see somebody flinch, then you know you’re talking to the right people.”
Now working on a spin-off novel from the “Tales” series, “Mona of the Manor”, Maupin said he was optimistic for the future despite some setbacks for LGBT+ rights.
“Too many of us in positions of power have reached a point of no return and aren’t going back to those terrible days of yore,” he said.
“(The fictional character) Michael Tolliver said it in “Tales of the City” - ‘When I came out of the closet, I nailed the door shut’.”
Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org